There is a scene from the original “Star Wars” movie (1977) that sticks in my mind. All the living heroes of the movie (Luke, Leah, Han Solo and Chewbaka) have temporarily escaped from the battle with the storm troopers by ducking into a convenient trash bin. Their relief from escaping the battle is short-lived, however, because the trash bin becomes a trash compactor and threatens to doom them to a nasty death by crushing.
While this may not be a perfect analogy, there are times in life when we all feel like we are in this situation. Part of the human experience is the feeling that we are small and weak and that the threats against us are big and gnarly. We have exhausted all our cleverness in escaping our adversaries, only to end up in a sloppy, scummy trash bin just as the maintenance crew decides to activate the compactor. In that moment we realize that we have been outmatched by the challenges that life has presented to us. And the question is, “What do you do then?” To whom do you cry out when life has overwhelmed you and your carefully laid plans have collapsed, when your friends have failed you and there seems to be no escape for you? Where can you find hope and confidence? In Psalm 142, David is in that place, and we will find in this psalm patterns and strategies for how to respond from the midst of the intergalactic trash compactor.
This study of Psalm 142 will focus only on the first half of verse 3:
“When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, You knew my path.” (NAS Bible)
Since we have dropped into the middle of the psalm, it would be good to get a little context. Although the nature of David’s trouble is not clear, it is obvious that the shepherd-king is in distress and may have been in distress for a while. Here in Psalm 142:3, David says that “his spirit is overwhelmed within him.” I read this as meaning both his soul and his body are exhausted. He has tried to maintain his courage, but the setbacks keep on coming. Like a surfer caught in the midst of a series of big waves, he is losing the fight to catch his breath. As soon as he fights his way to the surface, another wave of water crashes down. Fear and fatigue are towering over him, and he is overpowered. He is outmatched. “When my spirit was overwhelmed within me . . .” What is David’s source of hope?
The last four words of Psalm 142:3a are “You knew my path.” These four words are critically important to the child of God who is feeling overwhelmed by the incessant challenges of life.
“You, O LORD, knew my path.”
David expresses the confidence that every believer can have, that the LORD is personally aware of and concerned with our every trial and overwhelming circumstance. The LORD knows my path, and He knows your path. The NAS Bible renders the Hebrew verb in the past tense, “knew.” In this case, the past tense is much stronger than the present tense. The LORD KNEW my path in eternity past, before the creation of the world, and then He brought my “path” into existence according to His perfect plan. He personally ordained it to be. “You knew my path” means that the LORD has led me into this situation, the LORD is personally with me in the midst of it, and the LORD already knows every detail of the outcome. “You knew my path” means that the LORD has His personal fingerprints on every detail of every circumstance of my life, making sure that exactly this circumstance unfolds exactly this way so that all things work together for good (Romans 8:28) and so that I am conformed more into the image of Christ (8:29).
In the book of “Job,” we read that “man is born for trouble as the sparks fly upward (5:7).” Our Lord Jesus Himself said that “each day has enough trouble of its own (Matt. 6:34)” and “in this world you will have tribulation (John 16:33).” The Bible speaks truth about life on earth after sin enters the world, and it is a life of effort and setback and difficulty. Of course, it is not ALL trial and difficulty, but we must have a sober expectation that overwhelming times will come so that we are not defeated when we meet the first opposing waves.
In light, then, of the inevitability of trials, what can we do as followers of Jesus that will make a difference in our lives? First, when we are feeling overwhelmed by the trials of life, we can have confidence that the Lord who guided us into the trial is with us in the storm and will guide us out to our safe haven (Psalm 107:30). Remember, “the LORD knew my path.” Each trial thus becomes an opportunity to increase our trust in the Lord and to anticipate His faithfulness.
Second, it is in trials that the Lord proves His power to deliver us. God has already accomplished the most powerful act of deliverance imaginable when He delivered us from our sin and condemnation and raised us up in salvation through our faith in the completed work of Christ on the cross. Having already demonstrated His power in giving us eternal deliverance, He is more than able to come to our help for temporal deliverance. What I mean is this: The Lord will deliver those who cry out to Him. Nothing is too difficult for Him (Jeremiah 32:17). Your trial may be overwhelming to you, but to the One who called the universe into existence ex nihilo and who raised Jesus from the dead (Ephesians 1:19-20), the trial is completely under His feet. In fact, if my thinking is correct on this, the Lord brings trials into our lives SO THAT He can rescue us when we cry to Him. “The LORD knew my path,” so He knew how He was going to deliver me. SDG rmb 7/3/2020